That rationale could apply to a host of schools in other conferences. I spent two years in Mississippi in the 80s' and know the schools well, even directly. Actually, MSU is the larger school, though modestly, and within the state, carries a plurality of fans. But, indeed Ole Miss has the brand name and the more lofty history: Archie Manning, Eli, Coach Johnny Vaught, etc. State is a charter conference member, and certainly current marketing and telecasting were not envisioned then. I remember when MSU had a 35,000 seat stadium, and a year they were doing very well, there was a decision to televise a game with visiting FSU. The concern then was not about the team, but the smaller stadium for TV. Nowadays, a network will show games at places with masses of empty seats---just use camera work to de-emphasize this. MSU is now at near 62,000, and just spent a ton of money on impressive upgrades to the nation's second oldest on-campus stadium. Georgia Tech has the oldest, but not the level of modernization recently done at MSU. MSU is not that far from Memphis either (and comparatively closer to Jackson, Meridian, and Gulfport), and used to play Tennessee frequently in the Liberty Bowl (regular season). At one time, the Commercial-Appeal had a pro-MSU sports writer that gave them some good press.
It is a tight neighborhood for MSU, particularly with Alabama next door. Southern Miss made a lot of strides and they have the advantage of the growing gulf region.
If you follow SEC coverage, MSU is probably the least mentioned school/team of all the SEC schools, even when they are doing very well in a sport. And how many times do writers, announcers, printers, etc., get their name confused with Ole Miss and Southern Miss? Constantly. By contrast that is not common among Michigan, Michigan State, and the directional Michigans. When MSU made the final four in bb years back, it was almost like they were not even there by network and national press coverage. Where you are does matter. And certainly MSU has not a good, well-extended, 'run' in fb in recent decades to force attention, unlike what schools such as VPI and Boise have done. They'll have two or three fine seasons out of a decade, but not much beyond that. They have won the SEC-west division before, and Ole Miss has not. MSU's lone SEC fb championship was in the late 40s'. And even perennially fb struggling Kentucky, has a bb dynasty to showcase. While their recent recruiting has improved, and well ranked for early 2015, they have traditional relied on picked-over instate recruits and few others from neighboring states not offered by 'Bama, LSU, Auburn, Tennessee, etc. So I would not label MSU a bloodsucker or deliberately making lazy efforts, it's working with comparatively less resources.
I really think they need to change their mascot to another canine though, Georgia has essentially the monopoly on the bulldog designation when heard.
Yes it applies to many schools, I gave you at least 6 more examples (Purdue, WF, ISU, KSU, BU, TCU) but you could apply it to a few more but IMO these are the 7 worst (and notice how 4 are in the Big 12 which also a reason I don't think UT/OU hang around after 2025).
MSU is unfortunate for all the reasons we both said. Rebranding would help...mascot/nickname, colors/uniforms, some more traditions (I know it's corny to just add traditions but all anyone really knows about MSU is the cowbell), they just NEED something to distinguish themselves. Winning would work but like you said, even a final four didn't help their brand much.
But to put this topic to bed, MSU/WF are probably the easiest to pick on of those 7 (all the rest have either been recently successful KSU/TCU/BU, or are AAU, Purdue/ISU) and MSU is the more obvious target as it's in the SEC and has no risk of not being included in the current system while Wake Forest could get still get cut out if the ACC gets raided by the SEC/B1G/B12 (but that highly unlikely). MSU is one of those schools that simply lucked out being in a power conference while others like ISU/KSU will likely be left out even though they are just as qualified. And that's why I "pick" on them occasionally.
Fan of the Big 12 Conference, the Mountain West Conference and...